|by Gary James '10 • April 15, 2008|
ABC News host John Stossel encouraged a full Alter Hall audience to embrace the efficiencies of the free market Monday nigh.
Stossel’s talk, "Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity," focused on the lessons he had learned from nearly three decades in journalism and consumer reporting. After spending years investigating faulty products and fraud scams, Stossel came to the conclusion that the government, not business, was the real problem.
"I came out of college - a more liberal institution than this - and I was taught how the world worked, which was the government could make life better," Stossel said. "I thought capitalism was okay. It brings us stuff, but it’s cruel and unfair and we need government to protect us from capitalists. As a reporter I could do stories on the excesses of capitalism day after day. But then I watched the regulators at work. Now I have to conclude they don’t make life better for people. They make it worse because they take our money and our freedom, and they complicate life."
The talk was sponsored by The Wabash Commentary (TWC), a conservative publication dedicated to advancing ideas and insights about a traditional Wabash. TWC collaborated with the Young America’s Foundation to bring the foundation’s 2008 Milton Friedman Lecturer, John Stossel, to campus. Stossel joined the ABC news magazine, "20/20," in 1981 and began doing one-hour primetime specials in 1994. Stossel has received 19 Emmy Awards, a George Polk Award for Outstanding Local Reporting, the George Foster Peabody Award, and five awards for excellence in consumer reporting by the National Press Club. He answered questions and signed books after his talk Monday night.
Stossel spoke of some of the unpredicted effects of government regulations, using both legal and illegal drugs as an example. According to Stossel, drug regulations necessarily cause drug crimes, the black market for drugs, drug-peddling gangs, and corrupt police forces while enriching organized crime and discouraging some young people from more honest work.
In the realm of legal drug, Stossel argued that the Food and Drug Administration slows innovation in medicine and possibly jeopardizes lives because of the time it takes to the agency to clear drugs for market. Instead, the system should be voluntary, so people can make their own decisions at a time that suits them.
"By interfering in the market, the government creates unintended consequences – nasty side effects that make us less safe," Stossel said. "I’m a libertarian. I think drugs should be legal. I think homosexuality is just fine. The war in Iraq may be a mistake. I don’t know if we can nation build. The market will protect us even in the areas where you wouldn’t think it would protect us."
Stossel used media outlets as another example where the market works.
"[ABC, NBC, and CBS] get all their profits from advertising, so you’d think they’d let advertisers run the show. But they don’t. They demand word changes in half of the ads. They drive the ad agencies crazy. Sometimes they turn the money down. Why would they turn the money down? Because markets work in unexpected ways to protect consumers. In this case, they figured out they’d make more money if their ad time was not thought of as an environment for sleaze."
Stossel received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his talk. And for the most part, audience members agreed with his statements.
"I agreed whole heartedly with what he had to say," said Crawfordsville resident Pete Allen ‘73. "I do tend to be a free market economist in my thinking. That’s the very successful way for business and society to operate. I thought the event was a great idea. I think to have a good, well-rounded education you need to have good speakers from both sides so we can make our own decisions."
Crawfordsville resident Carl Dickerson ’53 disagreed.
"This is typical libertarian babble," Dickerson said. "They ignore the problems of all those who can’t make it as well as the few who can. I know that the capitalist in a free market don’t always have interest of the public at heart. Witness Enron. Witness Warren Buffet owing the government three-quarters of a billion dollars tax free. It doesn’t work that way. There has to be regulation. There has to be some protection. Do we have too much protection at times? Yes we do. But do we have too much capitalism at times? Yes we do."
Chris Sidebottom, Editor-in-Chief of The Commentary, thought the event was successful.
"I thought it went very well," Sidebottom said. "When we first sat down and started thinking of a game plan for this semester, we thought let’s get a unique perspective on campus. Let’s get something that’s going to generate conversation, not just within Wabash but in the community. And I think, as you can tell by the turnout, that happened tonight."